Policy makers called for a renewed focus on excellence and prescribed ratcheting up course content and high school graduation requirements broadly. Secretary Bell urged attendees to make science “one of the basics” and to provide additional opportunities for students to learn science during the summer and after school. The National Commission for Excellence in Education urged school systems to create a minimum requirement of three years each of science and mathematics for high school graduation and “more rigorous and measurable standards.”
By the 1990s reformers rolled out “systemic” strategies to reach national goals for excellence in education. There was a broadly shared sentiment that ambitious national goals like those laid out in A Nation at Risk were attainable only through a coherent, system-wide effort. The “unruly nonsystem” of American education—a concoction of federal, state, and innumerable local policy systems—would be drawn together and organized. Standards for content, instruction, assessment, and professional development would provide a framework for coordinated efforts toward a common goal: offering all students a sufficient level of knowledge and skills across the core academic subjects.
Ever aware of Americans’ distaste for centralized education policy, proponents of systemic reform trod lightly in the 1990s. They called for each layer in the education system to play a specific, semiautonomous role within a coordinated policy system, still ultimately driven by state and local decisions. The K-12 subject matter communities, comprised of education researchers, curriculum developers, scientists, teacher educators, and teachers, developed frameworks to guide state and local authorities with curriculum development. In science these were Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993) and The National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996). These two documents served as guiding frameworks for the development or refinement of each state’s own science frameworks, which in turn were used to format the content basis for curriculum and state-level assessments (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1995, 1997). Local education authorities also developed standards and curriculum that aligned with state and national standards, so that they would provide students with opportunities to learn content that would be tested on state assessments.
Standards also created a framework for focused science education funding from federal agencies and philanthropic foundations. Prominent among these were the NSF systemic initiatives, including statewide systemic initiatives, urban systemic initiatives, rural systemic initiatives, and local systemic change initiatives. For example, the local systemic change initiatives were “designed to broaden the impact, accelerate the pace and increase the effectiveness of improvements in K-12 science and mathematics education” (Lawrenz and Post, 1999). This program reflected the logic of standards-based reform